Blockchain – The Next Onslaught of Disruption

The hype of cryptocurrencies has almost reached fever-pitch as commentators see the meteoric rise of Bitcoin as a bubble. Whether it is a bubble or just the start of a new norm, is anyone’s guess. I can see it going both ways, but I have been intrigued enough to start researching it. It has been my focus over the summer, as I try to understand this new space.

While the cryptocurrencies get all the media attention, I have been drawn towards understanding the principles behind the technology itself — Blockchain, and my-oh-my, its a fascinating world! I work in the tech industry and as I learn more about blockchain, I am more excited about this space than anything in the recent past. There are hundreds, if not thousands of startups that are designing and developing this tech that is seeing rapid improvements. I have no doubt in my mind that the next Google or Amazon is being founded right now!

Blockchain

Blockchain, simply put, is a growing list of public records (blocks) which are secured by cryptographic algorithms. In other words, a blockchain is nothing but a distributed ledger, which can be either public or private. Bitcoin runs on one blockchain and Ethereum is another public blockchain.

So, what’s the big deal, you may ask. The power comes from its openness and the consensus that is reached by the participating nodes in a distributed manner. Succinctly put by Nick Szabo, the cryptographer & pioneer, who’s whitepaper introduced the concept of smart contracts and cryptocurrencies: “Blockchains don’t guarantee truth; they just preserve truth and lies from later alteration”. This has some serious implications with how products and services will be built and what the future economy will look like. 

The sky is the limit for the amount/type of applications that can be designed and developed. I invite you watch the following talk (Length ~1hr) by Alex Tapscott titled “Blockchain Revolution” as an introduction to the field. Alex and his father, Don Tapscott are the co-authors of the book with same title, and is currently one of the most popular books in the space — and is on the top of my wishlist to read.

Another resource that I highly recommend is the podcast Blockchain Innovation. While all episodes are great on the podcast, one interview that really stood out for me was “Episode 10: Toyota’s Breakthrough with Blockchain and Autonomous Cars with Chris Ballinger“. Chris is the CFO & head of Mobility Services at Toyota Research Institute. He is also an economist, who worked for the Obama administration at the White House, so he brings knowledge from both finance and technology (my two great interests 🙂 ) together. This interview was the “Aha!” moment for me when I realized how the smart contracts will be designed, implemented and leveraged in the future economy. In addition, the following nugget really stood out for me:

“The Aha moment for me was when I realized that Bitcoin or Ethereum had the potential to turn any asset, whether physical, financial, or intellectual property data into a bearer instrument.”

So, when you have any kind of a transaction involved — monetary or otherwise , blockchain technology can have an impact and can potentially disrupt the incumbents. There are definitely some low hanging fruits that are being taken care of, right now. Companies like Abra are already disrupting the worldwide money transfer space, which will spell doom for the likes of Western Union and put a big dent in fees from the big banks. This is not to say that financial world (i.e., banks) will suffer and will go out of business. Banks will be impacted, but they can turn it to their advantage by using the technology and cutting costs rather than shunning the technology. Alex from the video above touches on this subject briefly.

I am just starting out this journey on learning about blockchains and I am super excited. I encourage you to learn more as this is something that cannot be ignored. If you have any other good resources in the space that I should be paying attention to, please be sure to leave a comment below.

As far as cryptocurrenies themselves go, I have a few thoughts to share, but will save that for a followup post. Stay tuned! 🙂

Followup: Here’s a great Blockchain 101 demo video which explains the technology visually.

19 thoughts on “Blockchain – The Next Onslaught of Disruption

  1. Jan says:

    Thanks! Don’t leave us hanging, what blockchain companies are you interested in? The stock prices seem to be rising rapidly lately, I think I’m going to buy some shares soon…I’m looking into GAHC, BTCS, BITCF.

    • Thanks for sharing your picks, Jan. Interesting picks… I am still learning a lot and have come across a few, but still not sure which ones will stand out. Some are bigger than others of course — companies like R3, Abra etc seem to pop up in a lot of articles/videos.

      Theres still a lot of work to be done on the underlying infrastructure. The Linux foundation is running the Hyperledger project — and there are some wonderful projects as part of that. Check out the interview on the Blockchain Innovation podcast I mentioned. The real value add will come once the base/underlying infrastructure is built and stable and apps will get built on top of that. Exciting times!

      R2R

  2. Jan says:

    I was going to buy some Litecoin and ETH yesterday but I couldn’t even understand the ‘myetherwallet’ instructions…I am so confused by the technology. It seems complicated?

    • It is pretty complicated for the average Joe to understand. Speaking as one of the Joes I find the bit coin wallets to be particularly confusing. Of course you could go with a simple online bitcoin wallet but that has serious security issues and the fees are usually very high to transfer money. Then there’s usb wallets, paper wallets etc. I’m fairly tech savy but if I’m getting confused by all of this then how are less tech savy people going to deal with it. The answer is, they won’t. That’s why I don’t see crypto currencies being adopted any time soon.

      • Current wallets are a bit confusing, yes. But this is not a hard problem to solve. Sooner or later, someone will simplify it to a point where its all transparent. Imagine having a wallet app on your iPhone secured with your fingerprint or some other authentication method. Its just a matter of building a simplified interface that anyone can use it. I think anyone/everyone with a cellphone will be able to use it in the future.

        R2R

  3. I would add Matthew Cochrane (fool.com) to your list. Although not as deep, he presents several current applications and adopters.

    I would not classify Western Union as being “doomed” as they have a patent pending for “multi-network transaction analysis” … i.e., performing location based transactions regardless of the base currency or ledger. They are also participants in a trial with Coinbase. Most interesting (imho) is their blockchain development efforts to streamline compliance (i.e., money laundering controls) that could be used by banks (domestic or cross-border) as well.

    • Thanks for the recommendation. Will check the author out.

      Interesting that Western Union is collaborating with Coinbase. Even if WU survives, it will have to drive those eye gouging prices wayyyy down to stay relevant and compete with other players. So far, theyve had the market to themselves and from what Ive read, ppl hate it but use it because its relatively convenient and agree to pay the exorbitant fees. Lots of unhappy customers.

      R2R

  4. Great write-up!

    I’ve been really interested in buying some cryptocurrency but feel like it’s a bubble that’s about to pop.

    After a serious pullback, I think the time will be right.

    You’re right about blockchain, though. That’s the real gamechanger.

    The processes and applications for that technology are a mile long.

    It won’t feel as disruptive as something like autonomous cars, but it will have the same kind of impact.

    • What if I said that its the other way around? 🙂

      I think blockchain will be wayyyyy more disruptive than autonomous cars. In fact, autonomous cars are just one application or service that can leverage blockchain for their advantage, let alone all the other industries that will be impacted with it. Since I wrote this article, Ive continued to read more and its a complete rabbit hole. Really hard to fathom what the future will look like, except that I know that world will change a LOT and leverage this technology without people even realizing that we are using it in the background making everything seamless and smooth.

      As far as cryptocurrencies are concerned — I can see it going both ways. Today’s cryptos may exist as they are and survive the test of time, but they may collapse and something new may come up. But one thing for certain is that there will similar kind of digital assets in the future. Digital assets are here to stay, in one form or another. Now, you’ve motivated me to write that next article I was talking about … off I go. Hopefully I’ll get it out by next week.

      R2R

  5. Nice write up and followup resources. I also think that the technology’s implications are far more important than the individual cryptocurrencies. It will be interesting to watch this innovation unfold….although I’m not well versed enough to invest heavily in the longer term outcomes. Hope you’re having a great week.
    -Bryan

    • The breath of implications are far and wide. I havent heard of any recent technology in the last 20-30 years that has so much promise. I almost dare say that the implications are as big as the Internet itself. Theres no easy way to invest in the space, and ppl are turning to ICOs, tokens and anything they can get their hands on. Will be great to be part of this new wave of innovation.

      R2R

  6. I’m still pretty much in the process of understanding the world of cryptocurrencies. I’m more into stock investing but this whole bitcoin thing is really intriguing. Thanks for your information here. I also read another great article about blockchain from businessinsider. Not sure if I’m allowed to share the link here. What is your take on Jamie Dimon’s comment that bitcoin is a fraud?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *